HGH EMS Rescue awarded prestigious national accreditation

WINNEMUCCA — Humboldt General Hospital’s EMS Rescue Department has joined a small, elite group of ambulance services that have achieved the nation’s highest certification.

Emergency Medical Services Rescue Director Pat Songer received notification last month that HGH EMS Rescue has been nationally accredited through the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (CAAS).

Of the 15,000 licensed ambulance providers in North America, only 133 are CAAS accredited. With this achievement, HGH EMS Rescue becomes only the fifth ambulance service to be accredited in the State of Nevada and among the smallest and most rural in the entire United States.

Only a handful of ambulance services were awarded the accreditation this year.

“We are so honored to have received this certification,” said Songer. “For two years, my crew has been steadily working to achieve this honor; it is so rewarding to finally have the chance to post the CAAS accreditation logo.”

The Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services (CAAS) was established to encourage and promote quality patient care in America’s medical transportation system.

Based initially on the efforts of the American Ambulance Association, the independent commission established a comprehensive series of standards for the ambulance service industry.

These standards often exceed those established by state or local regulation. The CAAS standards are designed to increase operational efficiency and clinical quality, while decreasing risk and liability to the organization.

Perhaps most important, say CAAS officials, is that the process includes a comprehensive self-assessment and an independent external review of the EMS organization which, upon successful completion, verifies to hospital, municipal, medical and residential communities that an EMS service provides the highest standard of care available in emergency medicine.

For Songer, it means the service has finally achieved EMS’s gold standard.

“When I first came to Winnemucca, I could see the potential of this service,” said Songer.

He said all the elements were there to help the service achieve CAAS certification, including a willing, motivated crew and a supportive administrative base.

“Plus, this is a department of Humboldt General Hospital. There are only a few services out there that are linked to hospitals, so we had an advantage right off the bat. You’re not a single struggling ambulance service. You’re one of 30-plus departments who are all working together to provide excellent patient care.”

Songer said when he first pitched the idea of CAAS accreditation to service members, he expected some natural skepticism, maybe even a dash cynicism.

“After all, this is CAAS certification,” he said. “This is the gold standard, the highest of the high. They already knew it was the toughest standard out there.”

Instead of negativity, though, Songer got a huge thumbs up. “It was incredible,” he said, “the more I talked about it and what we needed to do, the more excited we all became.”

Following a week-long training in Maryland in 2008 where Songer and Education Coordinator Ken Whittaker learned the ins and outs of the process (yes, even learning about the process took a week) members were still motivated. “and that was motivating to me,” he said. “I knew we had the whole team on board, and if everyone was ready to do this, I knew it could be done.”

Full-time member Tori Stephen accepted the challenge to get the ambulance service ready. Her goals fell into five areas, each a major feat in and of itself.

First, Stephen had to conduct a “self assessment” of the service, familiarizing herself with the commission’s standards for accreditation and then ensuring that the local service’s standards fell in line with the commission’s standards. That first step took nearly two years and included a serious evaluation of all protocols and procedures of the service, implementing new practices, modifying others and eliminating still others altogether.

The next step was to actually apply for CAAS certification—a signal to the commission that the service meets or exceeds all standards set forth. The application took months to complete and, to all crew members’ delight, was nearly complete with its first submission—a feat almost unheard of in the accreditation world.

Next came the evaluation phase. Following an off-site review of the submitted application, the commission then scheduled an on-site review consisting of visitation, interviews and observation by a two-member team of site reviewers. In HGH’s case, the reviewers included the former CEO of Hall Ambulance Service, Inc., one of the nation’s largest ambulance companies, and the current president of the American College of Surgeons.

The reviewers spent two days in Winnemucca in early February, conducting interviews and gathering information intended to verify that the service meets the standards established by the commission. Both of the men were very impressed with the local service and even went so far as to tell HGH CEO/Administrator Jim Parrish that in their estimation, and according to their experience, HGH EMS Rescue was one of the top 10 ambulances services in the country.

The actual determination of whether the service met all requirements was made by an independent, impartial panel of commissioners that represents health care, law and business.  Additionally, the panel includes one representative from each of the six major national EMS-related organizations including the American Ambulance Association, the American College of Emergency Physicians, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Association of EMS Physicians, the National Association of EMTs and the National Association of State EMS Directors.

The commission also enjoys liaison representation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Approximately three weeks following the on-site review, Songer received the official letter granting CAAS accreditation to the local service, and giving HGH EMS Rescue the bona fide right to display the commission’s accreditation logo with pride on its ambulance vehicles and in its advertising.

The accreditation is valid for three years at which time the service will need to undergo a re-accreditation process, showing that it has continued to maintain or exceed CAAS standards.

“We’re just thrilled with the designation,” said Parrish. “We have one of the finest ambulance services in the country and we are proud to call them members of the HGH team.”

Songer credited his crew members for their dedication to leading the way in rural emergency medical services. “This community is so fortunate to have this kind of service,” he said. “Our crews work so hard to be excellent, but they never lose their care and their compassion.”

He added, “It makes for a superior service—and one that I’m very proud of.”

Humboldt General Hospital EMS Rescue has been in service for nearly 35 years. In 2010, the emergency service will respond to more than 1,500 calls across Humboldt County’s 9,626 square miles. Crew members also will provide medical certification training to more than 300 people this year.

For more information on Humboldt General Hospital Emergency Medical Services Rescue’s certification through the Commission on Accreditation of Ambulance Services, please call Director Pat Songer at (775) 623-5222, ext. 160.

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